Henry Peck try seals Cambridge victory over Rotherham Titans in National League One
Growing signs of maturity were demonstrated by Cambridge as they clinched a 25-21 win over Rotherham Titans in National League One.
The conditions may have made the going difficult at Volac Park, but it did not take away from an enthralling and entertaining game that went down to the wire.
It was Cambridge’s final defence that secured them the bonus-point win, yet that was just one factor in their success.
The Titans occupy the final relegation place in the table and, although each match has to be treated in isolation from a neutral perspective, it is difficult to understand why they are struggling so much.
They seemed to have plenty about their game, especially at the scrum which was a lethal tool in their armoury.
Maybe, it has just been blips in matches that have hurt them badly as it needed a smart performance overall for Cambridge to emerge victorious.
It may not have been Cambridge's most rounded of displays, but you could see in certain areas that bit of nous and savvy come to the fore.
The most notable aspect was the way that they adapted to having the wind against them to look after the ball in the second half.
Bearing in mind Rotherham’s scrum strength, handling errors could have proved costly. With the odd exception - an intercept try for Rotherham’s Sam Boxhall from inside his own half in the 51st being the main one - they worked well to maintain possession.
Nothing too elaborate was tried in a passing sense, the distances between players narrowed and the number of pick and gos went up.
It led to Rotherham having just two put-ins to the scrum after the break.
Another area that catches the eye in each passing game is the attacking lines and support play.
When Ben Penfold made a line break in the 38th minute, team-mates were quick to arrive, and the ball was eventually recycled from right to left for Andrew Henderson to touch down, making it 15-7 at half time.
It was a similar story for what turned out to be the winning try.
Matt Dawson made a smart off-load around halfway to Jimmy Martin. The winger broke clear down the right and was tackled just short of the line, but up in support was tight-head prop Henry Peck, who took the pass to touch down.
These may be small things in the bigger picture, but when you put them together it helps illustrate the development of the side and is a key reason that they have made it four wins in a row for the first time in four seasons.
That said, there is still plenty to learn, not least getting the kicking tee onto the pitch after a try.
Maybe they were caught unaware when Martin’s good play saw him put in sponsors’ man-of-the-match Matt Hema to scamper clear for the first try inside 54 seconds.
There can be little excuse when no tee arrived for Ben Penfold four minutes later, after Martin had this time hared down the right to touch down.
To say that the Cambridge fly-half was left unimpressed is an understatement, and such simple things can end up proving costly.
Rotherham could have been shell-shocked to have conceded two tries inside the first five minutes, especially given their delicate position in the table, but they produced a good response.
They looked after possession well, going through multiple phases for Ben Robbins to touch down out wide. Impressive kicker Sam Hollingsworth landed the conversion to make it 10-7.
After Henderson made it 15-7 to Cambridge at the break, and Boxhall reduced the arrears to 15-14, a key theme for the second period was the number of penalties conceded by the visitors.
It was a mixture of sensible play from Cambridge and an at times impetus approach by Rotherham, but it was giving the hosts good terrority when conditions could have made it difficult to get out of their own territory.
Cambridge were caught off guard in the 64th minute though. Harry Newborn took a quick throw to the front of the line-out, and Rotherham broke clear, with the hooker taking a return pass to touch down. Hollingsworth’s conversion made it 21-15 to the visitors.
The hosts maintained their composure, and staying on script worked their way deep into the Titans’ half. Possession came back to Joe Tarrant, who sent a grubber kick into the corner and after hesitancy in the Rotherham defence, Martin touched down.
It meant Cambridge trailed by one point, 21-20, with nine minutes remaining.
Peck then pounced to give his side a 25-21 lead in the 76th minute.
In the final play, Rotherham landed a long penalty into the corner to put pressure on the hosts’ line.
There was no panic from the hosts, however, and they stuck to the task of driving back drive after drive from the Titans, before eventually turning over possession through a penalty.
Time was up, and the ball was kicked into touch to seal what must have been a satisfying win for Cambridge.
Cambridge: Tarrant; Martin, Hema, Brown, Henderson; Penfold, Duffin; Meek, Mayhew, Peck, Conquest, Baxter, Hutchinson, Dawson, Adams.
Replacements: McCloud (Hutchinson, 40), Priestley (Mayhew, 51), Creighton (Duffin, 51), Rayner (Brown, 62), Ibrahim (Meek, 64), Hutchinson (Baxter, 80).
Rotherham: Allan; Cooke, Bullough, Dunne, Robbins; Hollingsworth, Boxhall; Williams, Bermanas, Dennis, Preston-Routledge, Frost, Wilson, Poole, Maka.
Replacements: Dever (Robbins, 20-30), North (Preston-Routledge, 38), Newborn (Bergmanas, 51).
Scorers: 1min Hema try (5-0), 5 Martin try (10-0), 15 Robbins try - Hollingsworth con (10-7), 38 Henderson try (15-7), 67 Boxhall try - Hollingsworth con (15-14), 64 Newborn try - Hollingsworth con (15-21), 71 Martin try (20-21), 76 Peck try (25-21).
Referee: Samuel Phillips.
Sin bin: Rotherham - Hollingsworth (technical offence, 18).
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More by this authorMark Taylor